SA owes every child a tertiary education
FOR more than two years, the #FeesMustFall movement has highlighted the hardships being experienced by black students in tertiary education.
These concerns have been expressed via talks, boycotts and protests – both peaceful and violent.
Poor, overwhelmingly black, students do not have rich parents who can pay for their studies. Many sleep in corridors at universities because they cannot afford a room in the residences. And a shocking number struggle to buy one meal a day. This is our national shame. Let us reiterate: while state coffers are being looted, while state-owned enterprises are being plundered to the tune of billions of rand, the plight of our students – our future generation of leaders – is being ignored.
And yet, the hunger for learning among our young is undimmed.
Thousands of parents in lowly-paid jobs work their fingers to the bone to get their children into universities.
They know – as do their children – that the best way to break the spiral of poverty that continues to blight the lives of so many families is through education.
This is why the number of black graduates with degrees more than quadrupled between 1994 and 2014.
As a country, we owe every child in every family the opportunity to attend university or an institution of higher learning – if they have the ability, and if they wish to do so.
This is why we are disappointed that free education will not be immediately available, according to the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the funding of higher education in South Africa.
Justice Jonathan Heher, assisted by advocate Gregory Ally and Leah Khumalo, concluded in a 748-page report that tertiary education should be funded through a cost-sharing model that includes the government and banks.
The report recommends that students at technical colleges should be allowed to study for free.
Some will see a bright side to this: South Africa has a shortage of artisans, and fees-free colleges will help strengthen numbers in this field.
But we believe that some of the other changes proposed are purely holding measures: for instance, it’s hard to see the replacement of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme by income-contingent loans making things any easier for poor students.
They will still be caught in a debt spiral that will be difficult to escape from.
We urge students and the government to continue working towards a funding system that will work – and which, as soon as possible, will make free education possible.